That was what one of my favorite preaching professors used to say nearly every time we gathered for our “Intro to Preaching” class.
Her words have stuck with me through the years, echoing in my mind every time I sit down to write a sermon. But this past week, I found myself mulling over her wisdom as I reflected on parenting.
What triggered my thinking was an article from the online opinion blog of the NY Times that a friend of mine had posted on Facebook. Written by Justin P. McBrayer, associate professor of philosophy at Fort Lewis College, it appeared under the heading: “Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are Moral Facts”. You can read the article here: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com//2015/03/02/why-our-children-dont-think-there-are-moral-facts/
He’s responding to some posters hanging in his son’s 2nd grade classroom that succinctly define “fact” vs. “opinion.”
Fact: Something that is true about a subject and can be tested or proven.
Opinion: What someone thinks, feels, or believes.
He goes on to challenge those pat definitions which seem to present a very black and white understanding of two concepts that, as we all know, are often anything but simple, clear and easily defined. He raises important questions about the dangers of such easy and over-simplified categories that risk allowing for whole belief systems to be haphazardly tossed into the category of mere opinion, and morals and ethics to be viewed with the same laissez-faire attitude as fickle feelings that change with the tide.
Since reading that article, what has been gnawing at me is this notion that beliefs, moral compasses, ideals, when lopped into the same camp as simple opinion, run the risk of developing shallow roots.
As parents we are raising our children in a rocky and tumultuous time when opinions and beliefs are plastered all over the internet as “fact”, and convictions are respected only insofar as they remain strictly personal and relative. Distinguishing fact from opinion is often confusing, and certainly more gray than black and white.
How do we help our children to navigate their way faithfully and thoughtfully in a world that is quick to throw faith and conviction into such shallow waters? How do we help them to develop a faith that runs deeper than feelings; an experience of the Spirit of God alive and at work and present among us that even the burden of proof cannot shake?
Faith: “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1)
It’s interesting that throughout all of the Gospels, Jesus never offers an opinion. He speaks only of what is.
He doesn’t say, “If you believe, then I am the Way. I can be your Truth.” He simply says, “I am the Way. And the Truth. And the Life.”
He does not say that we should be like the light of the world. He says, “you are the light of the world.”
He doesn’t say, “if you believe, then I will be with you to the end of the age.” He says, “I am with you, to the very end of the age.”
Boldly proclaiming to our children who they are as God’s beloved children is imperative to instilling in them a root system that will keep them anchored and grounded in and through the ever-changing tides of opinion and ever-evolving understanding of facts.
Identity: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” (1John 3:1)
Beyond the complexities of learning to differentiate between facts and feelings and opinions and ethics, is the simple and unchanging truth of who God is and who we are because of God’s unending goodness, redeeming love, and transforming grace.
Jesus didn’t tell his followers who they should be, how they ought to live, even what they were supposed to believe. Rather, he revealed the reality of God with us, the kingdom of God come near, the proof of God’s amazing love in His life, death and resurrection.
The good news is that the Good News really isn’t dependent upon whether folks throw it into the camp of misguided opinion or proven fact. Thanks be to God, the Good News of the Gospel isn’t dependent upon us all.
As our children learn and grow and — we pray — claim and proclaim the amazing love and grace of God, may the truth of who they are as Christ’s own be rooted ever more deeply in their hearts.
Then, when opinions are challenged, doubts creep in, facts get muddled, and life gets confusing, the sure and constant, still small voice of God will be heard over it all:
Assurance: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 43)
Kelly Pittman shares life and ministry with her husband, two young children, and a wonderful church family, in Southeastern Michigan.